Health Hazards at Work - Part 1
1. Be able to explain health concerns that can affect employees at work.
While OSHA covers many areas relating to health and safety at work, a few other areas are also important to mention. Stress management, office-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and no-fragrance areas are all contemporary issues surrounding employee health and safety. We will discuss these issues in this section.
In its annual survey on stress in America,  the American Psychological Association found that money (76
percent), work (70 percent), and the economy (65 percent) remain the most oft-cited sources of stress for Americans. Job instability is on the rise as a source of stress: nearly half (49 percent) of adults reported that job instability was a source of stress in 2010 (compared to 44 percent in 2009). At the same time, fewer Americans are satisfied with the ways their employers help them balance work and nonwork demands (36 percent in 2010 compared to 42 percent in 2009). The implications of these findings are obviously important for HRM professionals.
Before we discuss what HR professionals can do, let’s discuss some basic information about stress. As it is
currently used, the term stress was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand for change.” In other words, we can say that stress is the reaction we have to a stressor. Astressor is some activity, event, or other stimulus that causes either a positive or
negative reaction in the body. Despite what people may think, some stress is actually good. For example, receiving a promotion at work may cause stress, but this kind of stress is considered to be positive. Stress is very much a personal thing, and depending on individual personalities, people may have different opinions about what is a stressor and what is not. For example, a professor does not normally find public speaking to be a stressor, while someone who does not do it on a daily basis may be very stressed about
having to speak in public.
Selye recognized that not all stress is negative. Positive stress is called eustress. This type of stress is healthy and gives a feeling of fulfillment and other positive feelings. Eustress can cause us to push ourselves harder to meet an end goal. On the other hand,distress is the term used for negative stress.
While eustress can push us, distress does not produce positive feelings and can go on for a long time without relief. We can further classify distress by chronic stress, which is prolonged exposure to stress, and acute stress, which is short-term high stress. For example, someone who receives little or no positive result from stress and is continuously stressed may experience chronic stress. Acute stress occurs in shorter bursts and may be experienced while someone is on a tight deadline for a project.
Two other terms related to stress are hyperstress and hypostress. Hyperstress is a type of stress in which there are extremes with little or no relief for a long period of time. This type of stress often results in burnout. Hypostress is the lack of eustress or distress in someone’s life. Remember, some stress can be good and pushes us to work harder. We see this type of stress with people who may work in a factory or
other type of repetitive job. The effect of this type of stress is usually feelings of restlessness.
One last important thing to note is how a person goes through the cycle of stress.Figure 13.3 "The Stress Curve" shows an example of how stress is good up to a point, but beyond that point, the person is fatigued and negatively affected by the stress. Bear in mind, this varies from person to person based on personality type and stress-coping mechanisms.
As you have already guessed, stress on the job creates productivity issues, which is why it concerns HR professionals. We know that stress can cause headaches, stomach
issues, and other negative effects
that can result in lost productivity but also result in less creative work. Stress can raise health insurance
costs and cause employee turnover. Because of this, according to HR Magazine,  many employers are
taking the time to identify the chief workplace stressors in employees’ lives. With this information, steps
can be taken to reduce or eliminate such stress.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, implemented several strategies to reduce stress in its workplace. The firm restructured its work teams so that rather than having one employee work with one client, teams of employees work with groups of clients. Rather than having an employee say, “I can’t go to my son’s baseball game because I need to wait for this client call,” this arrangement allows employees to cover for each other.
The organization also requires employees to take vacation time and even promotes it with posters throughout the office. In fact, even weekends are precious at PricewaterhouseCoopers. If an employee sends an e-mail on the weekend, a popup screen reminds her or him it is the weekend and it is time to
BEING A STUDENT CAN BE STRESSFUL
Here are the most common stressors for college students:
• Death of a loved one
• Relocating to a new city or state
• Divorce of parents
• Encounter with the legal system
• Transfer to a new school
• Lost job
• Elected to leadership position
• New romantic relationship
• Serious argument with close friend
• Increase in course load or difficulty of courses
• Change in health of family member
• First semester in college
• Failed important course
• Major personal injury or illness
• Change in living conditions
• Argument with instructor
• Outstanding achievement
• Change in social life
• Change in sleeping habits
• Lower grades than expected
• Breakup of relationship
• New job
• Financial problems
• Change in eating habits
• Chronic car trouble
• Too many missed classes
• Long commute to work/school
• Working more than one job
• Impending graduation
• Argument with family member
• Sexual concerns
• Changes in alcohol and/or drug use
• Roommate problems
• Raising children
Offering flextime is also a way to reduce employee stress. It allows employees to arrange their work and family schedule to one that reduces stress for them. This type of creative scheduling, according to Von
Madsen, HR manager at ARUP Laboratories, allows employees to work around a schedule that suits
them best. Other creative ways to reduce stress might be to offer concierge services, on-site child care, wellness initiatives, and massage therapy. All these options can garner loyalty and higher productivity
HUMAN RESOURCE RECALL
What does your organization do to reduce stress? What should it do that it is not doing?
Cumulative Trauma Disorders
Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) are injuries to the fingers, hands, arms, or shoulders that result from repetitive motions such as typing.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, is a common cumulative disorder in which the hand and wrist is particularly affected. CTS is a disabling syndrome that fortunately can be prevented or at least minimized.
According to one study of CTS,  the percentage of a workday at a computer, posture while at the
workstation, and the individual’s body features all contribute to this workplace issue. More recently, CTD
can be found in people who text a lot or use their smartphones to type or surf the Internet.
There are a number of keyboards, chairs, and other devices that can help limit or prevent CTD issues. CTD
disorders cost companies money through higher health-care costs and workersworker’s
CTD is a required recordable case under OSHA. OSHA has voluntary employer guidelines for reducing CTD in specific industries such as poultry processing, shipyards, retail grocery, and nursing homes. OSHA is currently developing standards
for industry-specific and task-specific jobs. 
Microsoft is attempting to relieve CTD by developing “surface” technology. First introduced in 2007, the system is controlled through intuitive touch rather than the traditional mouse and keyboard. Microsoft and Samsung in early 2011 introduced the newest consumer-ready product, which looks like a large tablet
(or iPad) used to perform the same functions as one normally would on her computer. 
HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE THIS?
To Tell or Not?
You work for a large multinational organization as a manager on the factory floor. One of your employees was moving large barrels of chemicals from one workstation to another, when the barrel burst and gave him mild burns. When you talk with him about it, he says it was his own fault, and he doesn’t want to take any days off or see a doctor. How would you handle this?
How Would You Handle This?
Video Display Terminals (VDTs)
In 1984, only 25 percent of people used computers at work, and today that number is 68
percent.  Awareness of the effects of computer monitors and other similar terminals are necessary to
ensure a healthy workplace. Vision problems; fatigue; eye strain; and neck, back, arm, and muscle pain are common for frequent users of VDTs. OSHA recommands taking a break after every hour on a computer screen and reducing glare on screens. Proper posture and seat adjustment also limits the amount of injuries due to VDTs.
Chemical and Fragrance Sensitivities
The EEOC defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of individuals and the ability to provide evidence of such an
impairment.  Because of this definition, people who
havemultiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) or environmental illness (EI) are eligible for reasonable accommodations in the workplace. MCS or EI is the inability to tolerate an environmental chemical or class of foreign chemicals. Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, inability to breathe, muscle pain, and many more depending on the person. As a result, implementing policies surrounding MCS may be
not only a legal requirement but a best practice to keep employees safe and healthy in the workplace. Some examples of such policies might include the following:
. Institute a fragrance-free workplace policy (e.g., no scented lotions, hair products, or perfumes).
. Limit use of restroom air
fresheners, cleaning agents, and candles.
. Ensure the ventilation system is
in good working order.
. Provide a workspace with windows where possible.
. Consider providing an alternate workspace.
. Be cautious of remodels, renovations, and other projects that may cause excessive dust and odors.
If an organization is going to implement a fragrance-free work policy, this is normally addressed under the dress code area of the organization’s employee manual. However,
many employers are reluctant to require employees to refrain from wearing or using scented products. In this case, rather
than creating a policy, it might be worthwhile to simply request a fragrance-free zone from employees through e-mail and other means of communication. An example of such a policy is used by Kaiser Permanente:
We recognize that exposure to strong scents and fragrances in the environment can cause discomfort, as well as directly impact the health of some individuals. Since we hope to support a healthful environment for employees, physicians, and visitors, it is the intent of Quality and Operations Support to strive for a fragrance-controlled workplace. Therefore, for the comfort and health of all, use of scents and fragrant products by QOS employees, other than minimally scented personal care products, is strongly
Chemicals and Substances
OSHA, as we mentioned earlier, has certain standards for how chemicals should be handled and how they should be labeled. Chemicals should be labeled in English, and employees must be able to cross-reference the chemicals to the materials safety data sheet, which describes how the chemicals should be handled.
It is estimated that 1,200 new chemicals are developed in North America alone every year.  For many of
these chemicals, little is known about their immediate or long-term effects on the health of workers who come into contact with them. As a result, policies should be developed on how chemicals should be handled, and proper warnings should be given as to the harmful effects of any chemicals found in a job site.
In the United States, twenty-six of the fifty states have smoking bans in enclosed public spaces. These
smoking bans are designed to protect workers’ health from the dangers of secondhand smoke. A recent
report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  says that state or local smoke-free
laws cover 47.8 percent of workplaces. The report says if the trend continues, the United States will be 100 percent smoke free by 2020. Many companies implement no-smoking policies because of health-care costs, and some companies, such as Humana, Inc., say their no-tobacco policy is simply setting a good example (since they are a health-care organization). Humana tests all applicants for tobacco in a
preemployment screening that applies to all tobacco products.  Most workplaces have no-smoking
policies, and some even prefer not to hire smokers because of the higher cost of health care. Policies
dealing with substances and chemicals are an important part of any employee training and orientation.
BENEFITS TO A SMOKE-FREE WORK ENVIRONMENT AND SAMPLE POLICY
For the employees
• A smoke-free environment helps create a safer, healthier workplace.
• Workers who are bothered by smoke will not be exposed to it at work.
• Smokers who want to quit may have more of a reason to do so.
• Smokers may appreciate a clear company policy about smoking at work.
• Managers are relieved when there is a clearly defined process for dealing with smoking in the workplace.
For the employer
• A smoke-free environment helps create a safer, healthier workplace.
• Direct health-care costs to the company may be reduced.
• A clear plan that is carefully put into action by the employer to lower employees' exposure to secondhand
smoke shows the company cares.
• Employees may be less likely to miss work due to smoking-related illnesses.
• Maintenance costs go down when smoke, matches, and cigarette butts are taken out of work facilities.
• Office equipment, carpets, and furniture last longer.
• The risk of fires is lower.
• It may be possible to get lower rates on health, life, and disability insurance coverage as fewer employees
Sample smoking policy
Because we recognize the hazards caused by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, it shall be the
policy of to provide a smoke-free environment for all employees and visitors. This policy
covers the smoking of any tobacco product and the use of oral tobacco products or "spit" tobacco, and it
applies to both employees and nonemployee visitors of .
Source: American Cancer Society,http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/Smoke-
August 20, 2011).
Substance abuse in the workplace can cause many problems for the organization. Not
only does it create impaired ability to perform a job—resulting in more accidents—but it results in more
sick days and less productivity, and substance abusers are more likely to file workersworker’s
compensation#8217; compensation claims. Keep in mind that taking prescription drugs, if not used in the proper amounts or used long after the prescribed use, is considered substance abuse. A drug-free policy, according to OSHA,  has five parts:
1. A policy
2. Supervisor training
3. Employee education
4. Employee assistance
5. Drug testing
According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, substance abuse costs companies over $100 billion in the United States alone. This staggering figure alone makes it
worthwhile for companies to implement a policy and training on substance abuse.
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 Kathryn Tyler, “Stress Management,” HR Magazine, September 1, 2006, accessed April 19,
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 “Survey Shows Widespread Enthusiasm for High Technology,” NPR Online, n.d., accessed August 20,
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25, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/usa-smoking-idUSN2128332820110421.
 “Insurer Humana Inc. Won’t Hire Smokers in Arizona,” Associated Press, June 30, 2011, accessed August 20,
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